Nicaragua occupies the centermost strip of the narrow Central America land bridge that joins North America to South America. About the size of New York state, it is the largest of the seven Central American countries.
Most of its 5.8 million people are traditional Roman Catholic (60 percent), but the number of evangelical Christians in the country has increased steadily for 50 years, from 2 percent of believers in 1960 to 29 percent in 2010, according to Operation World.
Nicaragua is still tottering from the hangover of a civil war fought fiercely through the 1980s, when U.S.-funded contras battled Marxist Sandinista guerrillas in an effort to prevent a foothold for communism in Central America. The war devastated the economy and infrastructure, and by 1988 Nicaragua was a disaster zone. Today it is among the poorest of the Central American countries—but a nation seeking renewal from a destructive past and restoration to a brighter future.
Renewal and Restoration
Renewal and restoration were just what The Foursquare Church offered Nicaraguans last June when a short-term missions team from Lighthouse (San Clemente Foursquare Church) in San Clemente, Calif., ministered for a week in Estelí, a city of 119,000 in the northern highlands.
Led by Mauricio Rodriguez, 29, licensing coordinator and Hispanic ministries liaison of the Southwest District, the team of 15 young adults ages 19-30 conducted neighborhood ministry across the cobbled squares and mountainside communities of Nicaragua’s third-largest city. They staffed medical clinics, took part in a Beauty From Ashes conference for teen girls, held outreaches for children, and constructed a local Foursquare church.
Giving hope to the city’s young people was a major objective of the Lighthouse team’s ministry focus.
“We were able to share with kids that no matter their present circumstances, Father God has a plan for them filled with hope and a future,” Mauricio says.
At one of the neighborhood clinics, team members prayed for a young girl named Patricia who had been sexually abused by her father for two years. Invited to the teen girls conference, she discovered the love of a heavenly Father.
“The Lord ministered to Patricia so much that she was able to forgive her dad and allow Father God to lavish His love on her,” Mauricio reports.
During a children’s outreach, Mauricio ministered to a young boy who had telltale signs of physical abuse.
“He was able to enjoy a few hours of fun and forget his pain, even if it was just for that day,” he says.
The youthful composition of the Lighthouse team (none older than 30) was important, because 53 percent of Nicaraguans are age 24 or younger, according to 2013 demographic reports. Nationwide, 25 percent of all childbirths are by teenage mothers ages 15-19. The Nicaragua Ministry of Health reported last year that the birth rate among minors ages 10-14 had increased by 48 percent from 2000-2012.
Reaching Youth in Crisis
The high birth rate among adolescents perpetuates a cycle of poverty and low educational attainment. Mauricio, who was born in Nicaragua (read about his riveting personal story here), plans to establish a nonprofit for the country’s young mothers called Tree of Life. They will receive job opportunities and spiritual covering until such time as they’re equipped to raise their children independently or choose instead to grant legal child-custody to Tree of Life.
“The key is to intervene in their lives [with] opportunities for a better life,” states Mauricio, whose own story of redemption from poverty is told in his autobiography, The Gift From Heaven (Foursquare Missions Press).
Reaching the youth, however, must include adding more Foursquare churches, he says. Foursquare has 86 churches in Nicaragua—five in Estelí—and the Lighthouse team completed construction of the fifth, Iglesia Centro Cristiano Cuadrangular.
Paul Otremba, Foursquare Missions International area missionary for Central and South America, also says the need is great for more churches—especially in high population areas such as Managua, the capital, home to 21 percent of Nicaraguans.
Nationwide, Foursquare has 6,427 members and 45 workers, according to 2012 reports. More than 1,100 decisions for Christ were made last year, 742 people were baptized with the Holy Spirit, and 366 were baptized in water. The Lighthouse team water-baptized 18 men and women in the local Estelí River.
Previous short-term missionaries have also proved effective in the country’s north. In 2011, two dozen Nicaraguans who graduated from a Foursquare Bible institute were part of a short-term missions partnership between Grace Covenant (Cornelius Foursquare Church) in Cornelius, N.C., and Foursquare Nicaragua in the north (read about it here).
Mauricio believes short-term missions will remain effective in Nicaragua if teams partner with the national Foursquare office and area leaders. Creating local partnerships is especially vital to ensuring the ongoing impact of the gospel.
“Since you’re only there for a short period,” he says, “partnering with those who live there is the key.”
Visit Foursquare Missions International to find out more about missions opportunities in Nicaragua and around the world.
- 86 Foursquare churches and meeting places
- 45 workers
- 1,125 decisions for Christ
- 742 Holy Spirit baptisms
- 366 water baptisms
- 6,427 members
- 2,786 sick prayed for
- 5 institutes
- 1 orphanage
* statistics reported for 2012
By: Jimmy Stewart, a freelance writer and editor based in Orlando, Fla.